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HG Spring Jam Fest: 17U Notebook, Pt. 1 (April 8, 2022)

04/09/2022, 10:30pm EDT
By Jason Guarente

Jason Guarente (@JasonGuarente)

MANHEIM — The first live recruiting period of 2022 was this weekend, with Division I coaches able to join those from D-II, D-III and junior college programs out at major events all across the country. Many of the region’s local teams and coaches were out at Spooky Nook Sports this weekend for the Hoop Group’s Spring Jam Fest, the first of Hoop Group’s major tournaments in the region this summer.

Here’s the first part of our weekend notebook, featuring action from the 17U showcase games on Friday:


(More Coverage: Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3)


Isaiah Miranda (2022 | RI Elite | Commonwealth Ac., Mass)

If Isaiah Miranda could pinpoint the precise moment it changed, when he started transforming from fringe Division I prospect to highly-coveted recruit, he’d travel back to quarantine in 2020.

Classes were online. There was nowhere to go. Whether he was at The Phelps School, which he attended at the time, or with Rhode Island Elite, his AAU team, he spent every waking minute in the gym.

Isaiah Miranda (above) has grown into one of the top big man prospects in the country. (Photo: Jason Guarente/CoBL)

“That’s when I could stay in the game and compete with guys,” Miranda said. “I could see my potential turn into production. Everything started to come together.”

The player on the floor now, the one who has sprouted to 7-1, isn’t merely staying in games. He’s dictating terms. He’s the guy everyone is trying to match.

Miranda put on a dazzling display at times for R.I. Elite during the Hoop Group Spring Jam Fest at Spooky Nook Friday night. He turned in some wow moments.

The Top 50 recruit in the Class of 2023 swatted away shots when guards dared to enter the paint. He made full-court and cross-court passes. He swished home free throws. All of his considerable skills were on display.

“He’s a great kid,” coach Nick Light said. “He’s only been playing basketball for like four years. To see his progression day to day is amazing.”

The most impressive part is Miranda’s shot. It looks like it comes from someone much shorter. Soft, pure and effortless.

Miranda knocked home three 3-pointers in the second half of a 68-63 overtime loss against Team Selfless. Each attempt was different. One was closely-guarded within the flow of the offense. One came on a fast break. One was created off the dribble.

Even a member of the opposing team couldn’t help but marvel.

“A kid today, after I hit one, was like, ‘That pull-up shot is crazy,’” Miranda said.

Miranda, a Rhode Island native, transferred from Phelps to Springfield Commonwealth Academy in Massachusetts last summer. That allowed him to play alongside some of his R.I. Elite teammates and friends. He said that was the primary reason for the move.

All of those 3-point shots are the result of countless hours running drills with the guards. Miranda often displays guard skills.

“They would tell me to hop in,” he said. “Slowly my shot was getting better and my handle was getting better. I stuck with that while still doing the big man stuff.”

Miranda’s recruitment has exploded in the past year. He was once courted by Siena, Bryant and Rhode Island. Now he lists Kentucky, UConn, Maryland and Georgetown as his four heaviest pursuers. Georgetown and USC had representatives at Spooky Nook.

Although he can’t help but notice the Division I suitors in attendance, Miranda is trying to take his star turn in stride.

“I’m just enjoying it every day,” he said. “Taking advantage of the opportunities being presented and enjoying every moment. It’s a once in a lifetime opportunity. It’s an open recruitment. I’m not really leaning towards anywhere.”

Light remembers when Miranda was a different player entirely. That wasn’t long ago.

“He was a goofy kid walking around with glasses,” Light said. “About 6-8, couldn’t dribble, couldn’t shoot, nothing like that. He’s put the work in. Everything you see on the court is a testament to how hard he’s worked on his game.”

Miranda is trying to find the perfect balance. He wants a solid post game to match those jumpers. If teams have to worry about both, he’ll be a nightmare to defend.

The junior’s rapid development leaves one to wonder where he can take it from here. Colleges are banking on him continuing that upward trend.

“We’re around him so much it’s kind of regular,” Light said. “But then you’ve got to take a step back. To see a 7-1 kid move and do some of the things he does really is amazing.”

At one point Miranda reached up and touched the backboard without jumping. One of the players watching near the bleachers was stunned. He couldn’t wait to tell his teammate the feat he just witnessed.

There seems to be no height that Miranda can’t reach.


Quick Hits
Ethan Simmon is one of a decent number of Class of 2022 players who has yet to finalize his college plans. The St. Joe’s Metuchen senior is still weighing his options.

Ethan Simmon (above) is playing out this month in hopes of landing a scholarship, but a prep year's on the table. (Photo: Jason Guarente/CoBL)

“Basically trying to find the right fit,” Simmon said. “My main focus is expanding my range for the college level. Then working on my body. I’ve been in the weight room a ton this offseason.”

Simmon scored eight points for the New Jersey Panthers in their 66-61 loss against Global Squad Friday night. New Haven and Colgate are among the schools that have been in contact.

“A lot of schools have shown a lot of interest,” Simmon said. “It’s just with the transfer portal it’s obviously a little crazy. If I can’t get the proper list I feel like I should be getting, I’m most likely taking the prep option.”

Simmon, a 6-4 guard, said Woodstock and Canterbury are potential prep landing spots. He’ll make a decision in 2-3 weeks.

— Ivy League and Patriot League schools are knocking on Matthew Kinzler’s door. The 6-7 wing forward scored 11 points for the New Jersey Panthers in their loss against Global Squad Friday night. Kinzler said Columbia and Princeton are among the most interested schools. The St. Peter’s Prep junior is in no rush to make a decision.

“I’m going to see how it plays out,” Kinzler said. “See what’s at the table when AAU ends. There’s still a lot of time left.”

Kinzler’s height and range make him a difficult matchup when his team has the ball. His biggest challenge is improving at the other end of the floor.

“At my size, I can spread the floor and play the ‘3’ or the ‘4,’” he said. “I can put it on the bounce if I need to. I just need to get better defensively and I can piece it all together.”

— Samuel Brannen has made an interesting appeal to prospective colleges on his Twitter page. He said he’s looking for a place to call home and not looking to someday jump into the transfer portal.

“My parents are always marketing me,” Brannen said. “They actually run my Twitter account for me. They’re always emailing and DMing coaches.”

Mount Saint Mary’s is the school that has shown the most interest in Brannen, a 6-0 point guard who is a junior at King’s Fork (Va.); he scored eight points and ran the offense to help Boo Williams hold off City Rocks 53-47 at Spooky Nook Friday night. One of Brannen’s goals is to find a college atmosphere that matches the one he enjoys in high school.

“It’s a bond where I’m at right now,” Brannen said. “It’s a real family there. A brotherhood. I don’t want to leave that.” 

— One of the most impressive performers for Boo Williams (Va.) was Michael Ojo, a 6-7 junior forward from Princess Anne in Virginia Beach. Ojo showed he could hit jumpers and slash to the rim while scoring 12 points in a hard-fought victory over City Rocks. Division I schools have expressed preliminary interest; Mount Saint Mary’s, Western Carolina, UNC Asheville and UNC Greensboro are among Ojo’s possible suitors.

“It’s going pretty good,” he said. “I’ve got a couple of coaches looking at me but nothing solid so far. I’m waiting for some offers and see where I can go.”

Ojo wants to improve his 3-point and mid-range jumper to help his chances of succeeding at the next level.

“Definitely need to get bigger and stronger,” he said. “I have to move my feet on defense and work on my shot. It’s got to get a little better.”

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